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I was quite intrigued to receive this album, as Mahler and Montréal are two names not normally associated in my mind, though it’s true that hometown boy Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s enthusiasm for this repertoire has been amply demonstrated in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Nevertheless, Peter Fülop’s comprehensive discography at the Mahler Foundation site currently lists some 1,168 Mahler recordings issued from 1924 to the present day; the OSM’s presence is represented with two lonely recordings, by Mehta (1963) and Nagano (2009). Charles Dutoit ruled the roost from 1977 to 2002 favouring a heavy dose of French repertoire, memorably commemorated in a well-received series of recordings on the Decca label. Sadly, these recording opportunities ceased in the late 1990s. Now however, it seems that Mahler’s time has come at last in Montréal thanks to the recent appointment of the gifted Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payere to head the OSM.
Payere brings with him a recording contract with the Pentatone label and a mission to launch a complete cycle of Mahler’s symphonies, starting (as is often the case) with the Fifth Symphony in a truly stunning rendition. The orchestra is on fire under his direction, precise and impassioned by turns. The Pentatone recording team have conjured a luxurious, natural ambience to the production in which every instrument is beautifully balanced.
Payere has an uncanny ability to render the episodic structure of the work into a seamless whole, creating flowing waves of sound that build organically and inexorably to their sublime summits. Special kudos go to Paul Merkelo’s superb trumpet solos in the opening funeral march and to Catherine Turner for her opulent obligato horn part in the Scherzo. An altogether thrilling performance that promises great things to come!